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Stealing Your Library
November 13, 2008 6:32 PM   Subscribe

OCLC, owners of WorldCat, are getting greedy. It's now demanding that every library that uses WorldCat give control over all its catalog records to OCLC. It literally is asking libraries to put an OCLC policy notice on every book record in their catalog. It wants to own every library. It's not just Open Library that's at risk here -- LibraryThing, Zotero, even some new Wikipedia features being developed are threatened. Basically anything that uses information about books is going to be a victim of this unprecedented power[ ]grab. It's a scary thought.

Open Library provides a free alternative to WorldCat, provided it doesn't get sued into oblivion.
posted by mecran01 (40 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Aren't most entries in OCLC donated for free by librarians around the world?
posted by Nelson at 6:35 PM on November 13, 2008


Nothing more disappointing than the downside of a great thing.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:37 PM on November 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


From the blog entry linked above:

But OCLC's control passed from librarians and academics to business people (its senior executive comes from consulting firm Deloitte & Touche). They realized they had a monopoly on their hands and as costs for running servers have gone down, their prices have gone up. They charge you once to get your records added to WorldCat and charge you again to get them back out and charge you a third time for a whole series of additional fees and services.

And these prices are high. A friend who runs a small public library with around 5000 cardholders was asked to pay $5400 to contribute his records and $700 to get records out, plus a whole series of "User Support" and "New Member Implementation" fees -- all far more than he could afford.

They've used the resulting flow of cash to fund a spree of acquisitions of commercial companies and expand into other fields. Their small Ohio office has grown into a huge executive complex. They've used their power and influence to put other library suppliers out of business so they can sell the same products themselves. And, throughout it all, they've become increasingly closed, even secretive.

posted by mecran01 at 6:37 PM on November 13, 2008


Aren't most entries in OCLC donated for free by librarians around the world?

Same thing happened with CDDB. I'm sure you could come up with more examples.
posted by delmoi at 6:38 PM on November 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


Oh no, not literally asking!
posted by DU at 6:47 PM on November 13, 2008


I hope people are slowly learning never donate data except under open licensees.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:53 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Has anyone pinged Jess to get her take on it? She is, after all, our resident librarian.
posted by dejah420 at 7:02 PM on November 13, 2008


As far as I know, librarians were the initial driving force behind open access scientific publishing. They are well-acquainted with this kind of bullshit and unlikely to take it lying down.
posted by grouse at 7:17 PM on November 13, 2008


I've pinged my librarian friend, and will report back as soon as something is heard.
posted by Minus215Cee at 7:18 PM on November 13, 2008


Where's the Libertarian who will explain why this is good?
posted by shetterly at 7:24 PM on November 13, 2008 [5 favorites]


Will it work with my cuecat?
posted by Neale at 7:32 PM on November 13, 2008


In my experience, a librarian is on my list of least likely to get snowed. They are also very open to projects like Open Library. OCLC is a huge force, though. When I think of how many times I access Worldcat in a day, and I don't even work in the library proper anymore, I can't imagine how hard it would be to separate ourselves from it.
posted by Foam Pants at 7:48 PM on November 13, 2008


If you're interested in reading the details, here's a list of librarian bloggers weighing in on the the OCLC's new policies.
posted by shii at 7:54 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


I hope people are slowly learning never donate data except under open licensees.

ha ah ha.
posted by fake at 7:57 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is fascinating, now I understand what Open Library is really about, a free version of WorldCat. It also explains why the project seems to have been on stall for a long time. OL is part of Internet Archive and I generally trust them, they are non profit and on the forefront of free culture initiatives. It does look like WorldCat is acting evil.
posted by stbalbach at 7:58 PM on November 13, 2008


There's clearly something I don't understand about this. Why would anyone need WorldCat in the first place? Why not just use the catalog information from the Library of Congress? Doesn't everybook in every U.S. library simlpy contain a small subset of what's in the LoC?
posted by Pastabagel at 8:11 PM on November 13, 2008


I agree with those upthread who have said that librarians are very well-versed in intellectual property law and very well-equipped to defend themselves. I'd add that those librarians attached to major universities also have the $$$ to support some pretty significant legal resistance. I don't see most major research universities acquiescing to this sort of thing.
posted by LMGM at 8:15 PM on November 13, 2008


Why would anyone need WorldCat in the first place? Why not just use the catalog information from the Library of Congress? Doesn't everybook in every U.S. library simlpy contain a small subset of what's in the LoC?

LoC can't tell you who holds the book. OCLC can. Then you can borrow it via ILL.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:40 PM on November 13, 2008


now I understand what Open Library ... It also explains why the project seems to have been on stall for a long time.

I'm affiliated with Open Library. It isn't stalled. Check out the awesome new Scan On Demand feature, the rapid pace of development of the open source codebase, the features being added and bugs being fixed, and the more than 22 million book records already online. The site is continuously growing.
posted by rajbot at 9:50 PM on November 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm a recent entrant into the whole 'yay pretend librarianship' thing, but WorldCat is FUCKING AWESOME, IMO.

Srsly, right now it's helping me locate microcard series from the 50s. That have been in a cabinet for 10+ years. (And now are missing any and all data associated with them.)
posted by sperose at 10:46 PM on November 13, 2008


I have mixed feelings about WorldCat.

On the one hand, it's found me the apparently sole surviving copies of texts, not recorded elsewhere.

On the other, it's getting rather 'noisy' - if you are looking for early (pre-1700) printed books, your hits are often crowded out by records for digital surrogates in some random library that has chosen to upload records for every item in its subscription to some database. (Some) libraries need to be more careful at distinguishing, IMO.

Isn't Google Books using WorldCat, having belatedly realized that they, umm, need a catalog, and that it won't just, y'know, emerge from out of the cloud?
posted by GeorgeBickham at 12:02 AM on November 14, 2008


Aren't most entries in OCLC donated for free by librarians around the world?

As I understand it, they pay to have them added!
posted by blasdelf at 5:19 AM on November 14, 2008


I hope people are slowly learning never donate data except under open licensees.

ha ah ha.


I'm sure most people using MySpace and Facebook never actually read the terms, so they could be donating data for all they know, but they're not really. Both MySpace and Facebook relinquish their license to contributed content when someone leaves the service or deletes the content, so it's not really a donation so much as a loan. OCLC, on the other hand, retains a perpetual license to contributed content even after the contributor leaves.
posted by scottreynen at 6:02 AM on November 14, 2008


I'm affiliated with Open Library. It isn't stalled.

Thanks, rajbot!
posted by stbalbach at 6:32 AM on November 14, 2008


This sounds so much like the CDDB/Gracenote thing isn't not even funny. Destroy them.
posted by adipocere at 6:51 AM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why not just use the catalog information from the Library of Congress? Doesn't everybook in every U.S. library simlpy contain a small subset of what's in the LoC?

The catalog information in the LoC's catalog was not all created by LoC, some of it was created by catalogers in other libraries. Cooperative cataloging allows for copy-cataloging, which then streamlines the processing of books into a library's collection. If we all had to wait for LoC to catalog every single book we might be waiting a long time. I've seen new books come into a library and go onto a 12-month hold because the record was not in OCLC.
posted by collocation at 7:38 AM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Once again, giving businessmen any control over good things turns things to shit.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:46 AM on November 14, 2008


Aren't most entries in OCLC donated for free by librarians around the world?

As I understand it, they pay to have them added!


As I understand it (and I do this for a living, but no snark, I'm not actually sure my understanding is complete!), what institutions pay (through the nose) for is access to OCLC's cataloging tools and to the information that's in WorldCat, and they then get credits back from OCLC for adding records. So, no, the records aren't free for anybody. There is worldcat.org, which is awesome, but it's meant for you-the public; those records are (long story short) not in the formats we work with.

collocation (<3>not our national library. Sometimes I wish it were, and would therefore stand up to OCLC when it does crazy things like this.
posted by clavicle at 11:10 AM on November 14, 2008


Ugh, live preview led me astray! Let's try that last paragraph again:

collocation (I heart your username!) is correct about LoC, and while we're on the subject, LoC not only does not catalog everything right away; it doesn't collect everything, and it's not our national library. Sometimes I wish it were, and would therefore stand up to OCLC when it does crazy things like this.
posted by clavicle at 11:11 AM on November 14, 2008


To answer Pastabagel, no, every book does not contain what you're asking about, CIP, or catalog-in-publication. I am surely not the only librarian who has had to do a retro-conversion of his/her library holdings, meaning converting and uploading the old card catalog and paper records to whatever library computer software exists in our libraries. And I had to do it twice, because our server's RAID array failed, losing - you guessed it, the disk with all the library's info on it, and my backup failed, too. The first retro-conversion took almost 2.5 years and the second one took 3 years. Many of those books are older and some are from publishers (especially Usborne - I'm looking at you!) who don't bother to put CIP in there, thus making librarians' cataloging jobs much harder. Then I worked at another library in our district one day and snooping through their bookmarks, found World Cat - it was an epiphany. Sure, they may be evil but they've certainly saved me a lot of time and angst. Of course I'm excited about Open Library, being a huge fan of open source anything. LOC, to emphasize what clavicle said, does not hold records of everything, and I find most of my MARC records from either Amazon or my current library software's proprietary server.
posted by Lynsey at 11:32 AM on November 14, 2008


unprecedented power grab

There is no such phenomenon as an unprecedented power grab.
posted by tkolar at 11:56 AM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


But OCLC's control passed from librarians and academics to business people (its senior executive comes from consulting firm Deloitte & Touche).

More like Toilette & Douche, AMIRITE?
posted by designbot at 12:13 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Touche.
posted by ersatz at 5:22 PM on November 14, 2008


A followup from Aaron.
posted by scottreynen at 7:24 PM on November 14, 2008


Has anyone pinged Jess to get her take on it? She is, after all, our resident librarian.

I was on the road for a few days and I'm just assembling a librarian.net post about this right now. Everyone saw this coming. OCLC -- a pseudo-non-profit in Ohio who basically got the laws of the state of Ohio changed to allow them to be considered a non-profit -- is the Microsoft of the library record biz. Lots of smaller and/or non-profit projects (most notably LibraryThing and Open Library) have been able to assemble groups of records from institutions many of which got them originally from OCLC's giant record pool.

Now OCLC wants to make damned sure that the only way you can get records out of an institution basically is to be an individual, not a group or organization that might possibly be competing with OCLC. They want the licensing to apply to the records individually, so that when you take a record you are agreeing to be bound by the license surrounding it. Good luck with that. In the past, the sheer scale of this sort of project -- millions of records -- made it almost impossible to sort of assemble a complete or near-complete record-set. That's no longer true and we've seen organizations doing it in order to share that information back out again. LibraryThing is nominally for-profit, but most of the social good it returns comes at no cost whatsoever. This used to be more true with OCLC and Worldcat and is becoming less and less true.

I've been unimpressed with OCLCs responses to the past week of back and forth. Vendors in the library biz know how to talk the talk of openness and 2.0 and sharing and whatever, but when push comes to shove, protecting their own bottom line -- even at the expense of an increase in access and an increase in knowledge -- becomes a primary motivator.

I find that there's annoying bluster on both sides of this argument, but I hope it's clear which side I fall on. Worldcat and its holdings information don't so much for me out here in rural Vermont where there aren't many member libraries and it always annoys the hell out of me to search Worldcat for Jane Eyre only to be told I have to drive to New Hampshire to get a copy when there's a copy right up the road. The same way Microsoft software pretty much doesn't work for people with dial-up [try those Windows Updates sometime] Worldcat is pretty irrelevant for people who live in places not served by OCLC member consortiums. They could have fixed this and didn't (include holdings for teenier libraries or offer cut rate "holdings only" sorts of memberships) so I'm not totally unhappy watching them squirm over this a little.

NB: it's possible I have some of the facts a little off on this. Since I'm not in a business relationship with OCLC (and you can't get data on their fees, for example, without being someone who is paying them) there are some things I don't know here. I do know Aaron (from OL) and Tim (from LT) and generally can get behind their projects.
posted by jessamyn at 7:24 AM on November 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


My friend's response: "Petition bad? Maybe. Definitely a power grab but those records can be accessed by anyone for free. OCLC is worried not evil."

Hmmm...

posted by Minus215Cee at 4:59 PM on November 16, 2008


Why does your friend think that OCLC is not evil?
posted by grouse at 5:23 PM on November 16, 2008


This isn't anything new. Look at what OCLC has done with their ownership of DDC, especially to the Library Hotel.

I work in public libraries, where "cataloging" is not generally done by professional catalogers, but means that some poorly paid and untrained staffer downloads records from OCLC and loads them into the local catalog without editing or even looking at them. I really doubt that those libraries will care about this. They are too busy fighting budget cuts that will lead to branch closings and layoffs.
posted by QIbHom at 5:43 AM on November 17, 2008


Well, grouse, he's a very forgiving type of chap. Other than that I cannot say.
posted by Minus215Cee at 4:39 PM on November 19, 2008


Why do you keep typing in small text?
posted by grouse at 5:39 PM on November 19, 2008


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